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Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Whitley, Joe Galante to be inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame

Lewis, 86, has long been cited by Hall-watchers as a snub.
Jerry Lee Lewis
American singer and pianist Jerry Lee Lewis in October 1966.Evening Standard / Getty Images

Just two weeks after the last crop of honorees was formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in a medallion ceremony — including the Judds — the next trio of legends to be voted in has been announced, and it includes the name that has most often been cited by Hall-watchers as a snub: the long-overdue Jerry Lee Lewis.

Also being ushered in are the late country star Keith Whitley — another figure that many would have like to have seen getting in much sooner — and arguably the most famous still-living executive to have reigned over Music Row, Joe Galante.

In stark contrast to the less exclusive Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducts many more new members every year, country’s hall only inducts three or four each go-round. And that includes the less famous names that get in via session player, songwriter, executive or other categories, creating a bottleneck that leaves plenty of icons still waiting their turn and making all three of these inductions long-sought and hard-fought by their champions.

The inductees were announced in a ceremony at the Hall Tuesday morning by Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks, already in the hall themselves.

Lewis, 86, was voted in as the sole representative of the Veterans Era Artist category, whereas Whitley will be inducted as the lone Modern Era Artist choice for this year.  Galante is getting in in the Non-Performer category, which is also awarded every third year, this one being in rotation with Recording and/or Touring Musician and Songwriter categories.

“It’s a great honor and a pleasure to be here in the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Lewis, making an entrance at the end of the morning ceremony. “I love everybody. I’m just overjoyed that they asked me to be here today. … It’s always great to be recognized.” The country-rock icon had a few words of advice: “Treat people right. Treat your fans right,” he said. “I love you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Many had wondered if Lewis had been locked out of the hall either because of his one-time rabble-rousing ways or because he had been known as a rocker first before transitioning into a career as a country hitmaker, but those questions have finally been put to rest. He is one of four members of the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from 1986 to have gotten into the country hall as well, the others being Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Ray Charles. Many other figures have been inducted into both along the way, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Brenda Lee, Floyd Cramer and the man who brought both Presley and Lewis to fame, Sam Phillips.

Whitley, Keith - 01 Jan 1900
Keith Whitley Gwinn/Mediapunch / Shutterstock

Whitley was represented at the ceremony by his widow, fellow country star Lorrie Morgan. “Keith never knew how good he was,” Morgan said. “He never accepted that he could have a great record deal or as much as anyone else had in this industry. He would be blown away if he were here today — he would be saying that surely they got it wrong. That’s how humble he was.”

Whitley died in 1989 at age 34, such a young age that, as Brooks & Dunn noted, the vast majority of the honors that came his way arrived in the months and years following his untimely death.

Galante started out in the pop business but was drafted to move to Nashville in 1974 and spent 39 years in executive positions, taking over at the helm of RCA Records and what eventually became Sony Music Nashville, arguably becoming the most towering figure in the industry in the 1990s and 2000s. “When I heard the news I was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was the first time in my entire career I was speechless,” he said in a statement. “I’m humbled, beyond honored and, honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.”

CMA Foundation Music Teachers of Excellence Event, Nashville, USA - 08 May 2018
Music executive Joe Galante in May 2018Rick Diamond / Shutterstock

“Our new inductees come from three very different places, but in October they will be enshrined in the very same place,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement. “Jerry Lee Lewis is a God-fearing rabble-rouser from a Mississippi River town, way down South. Keith Whitley was a Lefty Frizzell-loving country boy from rural Kentucky. And Joe Galante is a game-changing executive from the urban northeast. They all filled our worlds with music. They are all deserving of our respect and adulation, and their elections into the Country Music Hall of Fame ensure that respect and adulation will endure through the ages.”